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could anyone especially Korean native speakers have a look at this excerpt and tell me whether it is correct or not?
As the book said 선배 and 후배 are classified based on two criteria, age and position.
선배 = someone who is older or in a more superior position them at work or school or someone who has been in that position longer.
후배 is the opposite.
However, my friend said that 선배 and 후배 are classified based on position or status NOT AGE. Age is not important.
Could you share your opinion on this? Thanks.

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  • I've always heard it based on status, but since status many times follows age (like in senior is probably older than a freshman), to get conflated and the author is confused. Offering this as a comment rather than a definitive answer because I am not a native speaker. – ryanbrainard May 24 '17 at 6:24
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선배 and 후배 are normally used with someone who is attending the same school or a member of the same organization or company.

Then, 선배 is used for someone who has been at that school or organization longer, and 후배 for someone who joined later. For example, regardless of age, a 2nd year university student will call a 3rd year student 선배. Likewise, a newer employee will call one who has been at the company longer 선배 as well - even if they are the same rank. (However, I don't think a superior would call a lower-ranking employee 선배 either even if the lower-ranking employee has worked there longer).

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In addition to other good answers, I'll point out that the distinction of 선배/후배 does not necessarily equal social status (and who gets to say 반말 to who).

For example, let's say 철수 starts his career at a factory and later decides to enter college. Being a freshman, he is introduced to 재인, a sophomore, who is four years younger than 철수.

In this situation, we can say 재인은 철수의 선배입니다.

However, 재인 would normally not say 반말 in the same way he would to other freshmen, because four year's difference is a bit too much. Depending on the situation, they may end up speaking 반말 to each other like friends. Or 재인 might still speak 반말 but do it more "politely": say, "김철수, 한잔 할까?" instead of "야 철수야 한잔 따라 봐라."

Of course, there can be still places where 재인 would do unconditional 반말 just because he's 선배, but these days 재인 could earn a reputation of being a dickhead, or the whole organization could be if such an attitude is widespread.

  • Everything I said is highly dependent on organizations (and the exact amount of difference in age/seniority), so take it with a grain of salt. :)

  • If you think "WTF, why is the honorific system so complicated?", yeah, I know. I sincerely hope the whole system burns down within this century, but languages don't change very fast. :/

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Age is irrelevant in distinguishing between 선배 and 후배 (as well as 동기, who are the people who are in identical positions as you).

As the most observed example, you'll see a lot of celebrities in talk shows talk about their fellow celebrities, and how someone is younger than them but debuted earlier, therefore this younger celebrity is actually their 선배 (and merits 존댓말).

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선배 and 후배 are not based on age.

나이를 선배, 후배의 기준으로 삼지 않습니다.

In most cases(99% or more), 선배 and 후배 are based on grade, position or career, NOT AGE.

거의 모든 경우(99% 이상)에 선배와 후배는 학교 및 직장에서 학년(grade), 직급(position) 또는 경력(career)에 따라서 사용합니다.

결론적으로 선배와 후배는 학년, 직급 또는 경력에 따라서만 사용한다고 보셔도 됩니다.

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